I was recently discussing the homework vocabulary word “brine,” with one of the younger people in my life. It’s a salt and water mixture for preserving meat and other food, and I said, “Don’t you remember the ‘Oh, My Darling Clementine’ song where she falls ‘into the foaming brine’”?
He said, “I thought she fell into a bowl of wine!”
That is a perfect mondegreen. The American writer Sylvia Wright coined the term “mondegreen” for misunderstood lines of poetry and song in a 1954 essay for Harper’s Magazine. She explained that as a child, her mother read old poetry to her, and one of her favorite ballads was the 17th century “Bonnie Earl O’ Murray.” The first four lines as she heard them were:
Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl Amurray, [sic]
And Lady Mondegreen.
The actual fourth line is “And laid him on the green,” but even when she learned the truth, Ms. Wright felt her interpretation was better.
Here are some other misunderstood lines from songs. Can you figure out what the original line was?
1. Jose, can you see?
2. Through the night, with the light from a bulb
3. The ants are my friends; they’re blowing in the wind
4. Then I saw her face, now I’m gonna leave her
5. Donuts make my brown eyes blue
6. Goin’ to the Jack-O-Lantern, gonna get married
7. Got a lot of lucky peanuts
8. I’ll never leave your pizza burning
And to misquote Psalm 23, May Good Mrs. Murphy (goodness and mercy) follow you all the days of your life!
- O, Say can you see? (“The Star Spangled Banner”)
- Through the night, with the light from above (“God Bless America”)
- The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind (Bob Dylan)
- Then I saw her face, now I’m a believer (The Monkees)
- Don’t it make my brown eyes blue? (Crystal Gale)
- Goin’ to the chapel and we’re gonna get married (Dixie Cups, “Chapel of Love”)
- Got a lot of love between us (Frankie Vallee and the Four Seasons)
- I’ll never be your beast of burden (Rolling Stones)
This exercise represents an excerpt from one in my MindPlay Connections™ title, “Music to Lighten the Mood.” You can learn more and purchase any of dozens of titles at www.WiserNow.com.
Major original source for this exercise: http://www.corsinet.com/braincandy/wrlyric.html.